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Election Fraud Case Placed in Judge's Hands

Compton: After closing arguments, the jurist must decide whether former Mayor Omar Bradley, who filed the suit, gets another chance.

January 26, 2002|DAREN BRISCOE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As closing arguments ended Friday, the question of whether Compton's last election was flawed enough to be thrown out was turned over to a judge, who called it one of the most interesting cases in her career.

After 10 weeks of testimony, 85 witnesses and the introduction of more than 600 exhibits in Los Angeles Superior Court, there is agreement that more than 140 illegal votes were cast in the June 5 municipal election and that some election procedures were not followed.

Former Mayor Omar Bradley, who lost his bid for reelection to Eric Perrodin by 281 votes, alleges in a lawsuit filed in August that those problems are evidence of willful misconduct severe enough to justify overturning the election.

The city's attorneys say the incidents were unfortunate and unrelated mishaps that did not affect the election's outcome.

Judge Judith Chirlin, who will decide the complicated case, called it "one of the most interesting I've had in 16 1/2 years on the bench."

Joined in his lawsuit by Melanie Andrews and Frank K. Wheaton, two unsuccessful council candidates who ran on his slate, Bradley alleges widespread election fraud. Perrodin and his slate are accused of "malevolent, intentional acts of deception with significant criminal consequences."

The suit names Perrodin, City Clerk Charles Davis and incumbent Councilwomen Leslie Irving and Yvonne Arceneaux, all of whom were deemed winners of the election.

The scope and variety of allegations led Chirlin to divide the case into seven "mini-trials." Since November, she has separately heard evidence on:

* Whether counterfeit ballots were cast.

* Whether improper ordering of candidates' names on the ballot affected the outcome.

* Whether Perrodin committed offenses that included carrying a gun into a polling place.

* Whether there was misconduct by voting precinct boards.

* Whether ballots were cast by ineligible voters, including noncitizens.

* Whether incumbent Arceneaux was a qualified candidate.

* Whether incumbent Irving was involved in an effort to register noncitizens to vote and other offenses.

After ordering an examination of more than 30,000 ballots in November, Chirlin found no evidence of counterfeit ballots.

In early January, she ruled that "errors and irregularities" by voting precinct workers did not affect the outcome of the election. The judge postponed rulings on the remaining issues until all phases of the trial were complete.

The pile of evidence that she must consider is formidable. A ballot-by-ballot examination of several hundred voter signatures consumed two recent weeks. Eight noncitizens testified Tuesday that they were urged to register and vote for Irving, and several more voters were called to court to explain discrepancies in their handwriting on election materials.

Through his attorney, Bradley and his slate have argued that Chirlin should consider the cumulative effects of the issues in the trial's seven phases. Attorney Bradley Hertz urged Chirlin to make a ruling that would remove the winning slate and install the losing one.

Wheaton, an attorney who lost to Arceneaux by 1,819 votes, made his own closing argument. He said Arceneaux was an ineligible candidate on "that fateful day in Compton," because a voter registration form she filled out in 1978 was incomplete.

"She should be removed immediately," he said. "In her absence I would have won by a comfortable margin."

Andrews, who lost to Irving by 531 votes, also made a closing statement, saying the plaintiff's challenge is "not personal; it's historical and necessary. This community needs to know that the civil rights they fought for are real."

They city's attorney said Chirlin cannot overturn the election unless there is evidence in a single phase that enough misconduct occurred.

"She can't take a little bit of misconduct at a precinct and mix it with a little bit of illegal voting and say that's enough to overturn the election," Bruce Gridley said.

Chirlin could also order a special election or allow the June results to stand.

She is scheduled to deliver a ruling Feb. 8.

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